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A Commentary by Susan Estrich

I'm sorry, Mitt. I'm probably the last person in the world you'd want saying a nice word about you. Maybe you can trot this out in the general election. Maybe the likes of me will keep you from ever getting there.

But you did a very good thing in Massachusetts.

Without getting too personal, my brother and his family found themselves in the same position millions of Americans are in today: no health insurance because of a lost job and pre-existing conditions for everyone in the family, including my brother, who had open-heart surgery in his 40s.

If I had tried to help them buy health insurance in California, or almost anyplace else, there would've been a brick wall staring me in the face. Some years ago, that was exactly what I tried to do for my housekeeper/babysitter/best friend and family member of 25 years, whose only pre-existing condition -- get this -- was gastritis. As in, acid indigestion. As in, stomach aches.

It was enough to get her turned down by every insurer to which we applied, except Kaiser Permanente, which saved her life (knock on wood) a decade later. Even with Kaiser, I cannot upgrade her insurance coverage or lower the deductible or co-pay, because she got sick after she had the insurance. Be glad she's grandfathered in, I was told, and believe me, I am both glad and grateful. Here's to Kaiser. Only Kaiser.

Massachusetts is another story. In Massachusetts, you can go online and pick from a whole slew of plans. It's not free, not even close. For a family of three, you don't get a subsidy if the family income is more than $55,000, which, to be honest, is not enough to pay for rent and car payments and gas and car insurance, not to mention food and heat.

But at least you can buy insurance. They will take your money. They expect you to have insurance. You get choices. You can't be turned down, subtly or not so subtly, because you're older or live in the wrong zip code or get stomach aches or had open-heart surgery. You don't need to be part of a group. You don't need to wait three months for it to take effect. It doesn't exclude pre-existing conditions.

Next week, my nephew is scheduled for what will hopefully be an easy appendectomy, and the one thing his parents will not have to worry about is insurance.

I find it sad to see Mitt Romney being attacked for helping people like us, distancing himself from what was a great accomplishment, a victory that crossed party lines and now helps people like my family every day. Why are Republicans so ashamed of a program that allows parents to take their kid to the hospital when he's sick, without fear of being humiliated at the admissions desk, humiliated that they cannot take care of their child, forced to choose between the medical care they need and the necessities of life?

My brother told me that now that he has insurance he has gone to see his doctor for the first time in months, has resumed the medication he so urgently needs, has been able to stop worrying about what will happen if...

I'm paying for the insurance. It's not cheap. It's private insurance, and I expect that one way or the other the insurance company is making money. RomneyCare is not a giveaway, and neither is ObamaCare.

What we found in Massachusetts was not a handout but a helping hand, not a freebie but a chance to be free from worry. For that, I am grateful to the former governor of Massachusetts. Too bad the members of his own party aren't.


See Other Political Commentaries.

See Other Commentaries by Susan Estrich.  

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